A looming war between demons and angels. A draconic beast poised to destroy the world. A plucky hero and his companions on the path to saving it. What more could you ask for in an epic fantasy tale? Not much.
In the magical world of Mistarcia, angels and demons had warred for eons. Then a being of pure chaos, the dragon Bahamut, appeared and began to destroy the world. Only by working together could the angels and demons stop Bahamut -- and even then it was all they could do to seal him away. Each side then took half the key to Bahamut's prison to assure that he would never be free again.
The story of Rage of Bahamut begins 2000 years later and follows Favaro, a plucky, selfish bounty hunter; Kaisar, a disgraced knight-turned-bounty hunter looking to get revenge on Favaro; Rita, an immortal, undead necromancer; and Amira, a naive girl who has done the impossible: stolen heaven's half of the key to Bahamut's prison.
This setting is one rife with adventurous possibilities. It is a world with everything from knights, demons, and angels to zombies, pirates, and dragons. And as a bounty hunter, Favaro finds himself involved in any number of exciting conflicts as he goes about his work capturing the worst the world has to offer.
But while the anime could easily have become nothing but a series of one-off adventures (and still have been rather enjoyable), Amira's connection to the world's impending doom keeps the plot moving toward its inevitable, epic conclusion.
As Amira and Favaro travel together (later joined by Rita and Kaisar), they explore much of the world and its inhabitants -- including the demonic realm. Their journey serves to show just how big the world is, which in turn only adds to the scale and gravity of their adventure.
In one way, Rage of Bahamut's world mirrors our own. Outside of the main plot, we are often treated to the exploits (and eventual decline) of Jeanne d'Arc. We all know the story of the real Joan of Arc, but here its given a new spin with demons and angels using humans to do their bidding in a celestial cold war. Her tragic story plays out superbly in Rage of Bahamut; and given how rarely her path directly crosses that of Favaro and the others, it serves to show that important events are happening outside our small group of heroes -- and in turn adds to the scale of the world in yet another way.
The anime's tone is also central to why Rage of Bahamut is so enjoyable. It manages to walk the fine line between comedic action and heartfelt drama -- much like Disney's animated film Tangled -- without either ever feeling out of place in the story. This gives the anime enormous freedom in the kinds of tales it wants to tell. One episode can be an over-the-top battle between zombies, pirates and a giant crab, with our heroes trapped in the middle, while the next is full of physical and emotional torture as the party ventures into hell itself.
But what is a world full of adventures without adventurers to fill it? At the start of the series, Favaro, Kaisar, Rita and Amira can each be described in one word.
For Favaro, that word is "irresponsible". He is a character who does only what he wants, when he wants. He has no concern for the future and is dedicated to living in the moment. Likewise, lying, cheating, and other petty crimes do not concern him -- after all, there's no punishment if he doesn't get caught.
Kaisar, on the other hand, is best described as "honourable". He believes that being fair to others, battling evil, and bringing the guilty to justice is the pinnacle of good in the world -- and it's a lofty standard that he holds himself to.
Rita begins the series embodying "denial". Alone in a town, she lives a fantasy of her childhood long ago lost as the corpses of her friends and family are her puppets in her never-ending game of make-believe.
Amira serves as the physical incarnation of "innocence." She knows nothing of good or evil -- and so assumes that everything and everyone is trustworthy and good. The world-ending implications of stealing the key were unknown to her -- she was simply doing what her father asked her to do. Her quest in the series is equally pure: She simply wants to travel to see her mother and nothing more.
Over the course of the series, we watch the four protagonists grow. Favaro learns the value of looking beyond himself and loving another. Kaisar discovers that honour can be twisted and true good can be found in other places such as friendship. Rita's tale is one of redemption -- her striving to protect and shepherd rather than control. And Amira comes to terms with the existence of evil and learns that love really can conquer all.
These changes, while drastic, are never simple. Rather, they are realistic and gradual. The changes happen over the course of the group's travels -- complete with decisive steps forward and the occasional backslide into old bad habits. This all serves to make the characters feel nuanced, real, and easier to empathise with. It also gives the ending some serious emotional punch.
[Note: Skip to the final paragraph to avoid spoilers.] Due to its often lighthearted nature, a happy ending seems like a certainty in Rage of Bahamut -- to the point that it's shocking when we don't get one.
Yet, shocking or no, it does still work as a believable ending because the characters are warned exactly how badly things could become far in advance. As a viewer used to happy endings, however, you've been trained to discount these portents of doom, sure that some clever trick or deus ex machina at the eleventh hour will let our heroes emerge whole and victorious. It simply does not happen in Rage of Bahamut. Sure, the world is saved, but the personal cost to our heroes is severe as well as heartbreaking. The anime ends bittersweet and leaves you longing for a sequel -- wishing for the happy ending the characters deserve.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is epic fantasy at its best. There are grand battles filled with magic and monsters as the the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The world is one perfect for adventure and the plot is tailored to get the most out of a world filled with dynamic, well-developed characters. This is what fantasy anime should be.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Funimation.